There were horns aplenty as classic rockers Chicago, in its current nine-man configuration, played the first of two shows at Massey Hall on Tuesday night.
In fact, the animated trio of horn players - James Pankow (trombone), Walt Parazaider (woodwinds) and Lee Loughnane (trumpet), who are all original members along with keyboardist-vocalist Robert Lamm, were front and centre for the entire lively hour-and-50-minute show.
I think it’s the first time I’ve seen a rock band put their horn players in such a prominent position at the front of the stage but then again with Chicago, who have undergone numerous personnel and sound changes - influences have ranged from experimental jazz and psychedelia and Latin to cheesy soft-pop - over the last forty-five years, it was always about the horns.
It turns out for good reason.
Pankow, in particular, is an amazing showman and physical player, roaming the stage and playing the trombone like an electric guitarist would with his instrument while Parazaider was also a showy player, right down to his lightning bolt socks which he often displayed.
It was no wonder than Lamm introduced Pankow and Prazaider as “the backbone and the heart of the horn section,” respectively.
They genuinely seemed to be having a good time up there which is more than you can say about a lot of groups who have been making music as long as they have.
“It’s a real treat to be in your beautiful city,” said Pankow about half-way into the show. “We’re long overdue for a tour of Canada.”
Opening the evening with Make Me Smile, it was pretty much hit after big hit from the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s for the rest of the night with the audience often joining in by clapping or singing along.
The crowd even occasionally stood up when the song called for it like during the upbeat Dialogue Part 1 and 2, the anthemic I’m A Man - with plenty of cowbell by Pankow and Loughlene and a percussion and drum solo by Drew Hester and Tris Imboden, respectively - the uber-hit Saturday In The Park, Feeling Stronger Every Day, or the blistering show-enders Free and 25 or 6 to 4.
Lead vocals were a shared operation between Lamm, Loughnane, second keyboardist Lou Pardini, guitarist Keith Howland, and bassist Jason Scheff, the latter who took over for Peter Cetera when he left Chicago in 1985.
Other highlights were too many to mention but if I have to I’d single out Colour My World, Does Anybody Know What Time It Is, Old Days, If You Leave Me Now, (I’ve Been Searchin’) So Long, Hard Habit To Break, You’re The Inspiration, Beginnings, Just You N’ Me, and Hard To Say I’m Sorry.
Needless to say some were definitely guilty pleasures more than others.
Chicago returns to play Massey Hall on Feb. 4.